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Should The Eighth Doctor Be A Woman?

A Transcript of the Trakon Panel Contribution

By Craig Young

The possibility of the next incarnation of the Doctor being female has been mooted as far back as the late 1970s, with the producers and directors refusing to rule out the option, even if they do keep selecting men.

Would the series work if a woman occupied the title role? And how does the continuity of the series itself contribute to the question? Let me say at the onset that I firmly believe the Doctor's appeal lies not in the field of the gender of the actor or actress who plays the role, but the strong opposition to injustice and active intervention against oppression that has been the core of the role throughout the last twenty-five years, and there's no reason why a woman can't represent these values as well as a man can, if not better.

According to the classic media studies book on the series The Unfolding Text, though, there might be a slight problem in this area. The reason that the Doctor has been played by a white male all this time is that white males are the dominant social group and have traditionally defined what is human and what is not, and it is they who are treated as being universal. If the Doctor is a cosmic Everyperson and represents the struggle of the little person against oppressive institutions and social structures, then a white male is supposed to represent that. Would an audience accept a woman or black male actor in the title role if this were the case? Some of its more conservative members would not, stalking off fuming about `special interest groups' taking over the show. Some of us would probably feel proud that the series has taken the risk and is breaking new ground in having a strong central heroic female character.

Would the BBC do it? There are precedents to invoke here. One of them is the way the female characters have been portrayed since Sarah Jane on. With the exception of Peri and Mel, neither of whom have been very popular as a result of their stereotypical behaviour, they've been a rather forthright lot - assertive, intelligent, able to handle themselves in a fight. So is it such a leap from accepting them in a supporting character to the title role?

Onto series continuity - Is there anything in the programme's history that suggests that Time Lords can regenerate into the opposite sex? No, but is there anything to suggest there isn't? To be sure, most of the male and female Time Lords we've seen so far have remained the same gender in successive regenerations. Which brings up an interesting question - do the Time Lords really have male and female genders, or is this just some sort of mimicry of the dominant species that currently occupies the timeline they administer? We have already established that they have two hearts and a lower body temperature than Terrans do - so why couldn't their surface gender characteristics simply be a form of imitation and therefore liable to change with regenerations?

That's one possibility. The other is that Time Lords do have two genders, but that they reproduce their species differently to ours. Imagine a female Time Lord who regenerates during pregnancy - what would this do to the foetus? I would therefore suggest that the Time Lords developed ectogenesis to offset this problem, or else carry out surgical or biochemical modifications of the foetus within the uterus. Either that or the foetus can be reabsorbed into its parent's body, or Time Lord physiology has a uterus regardless of gender.

We are dealing with an alien species here - no one has really established the extent to which Time Lords and humans are similar or different.

Much depends on the development of the regeneration itself, is it an acquired Time Lord characteristic or did it naturally evolve in response to Gallifrey's environmental conditions? For whatever reason, it has been established that the Time Lords can control the process - as in The War Games. K'anpo was present at the conclusion of Planet of the Spiders, they must have authorised the presence of the Watcher in Logopolis, and so on. From this perspective is there any reason why the Doctor might not regenerate into a woman?

One possibility is that female Time Lords are more resilient than males when it comes to changing appearance - take Romana's regeneration scene in Destiny of the Daleks for example. If you remember, Romana sorted through a range of female bodies before finally settling on Lalla Ward. If that was a real regeneration sequence, let's compare it with some of the Doctor's traumas. Why is Romana able to change bodies so easily? One possibility could be her age; the other one could be that regeneration is a naturally evolved characteristic in response to Gallifrey's environment. In that case, female regenerations might be an inbred genetic characteristic to insure species survival, one acquires male Time Lords with rather more difficulty, explaining why the Doctor has problems and Romana doesn't. If female Time Lords are more resilient, then there's bound to be regeneration into another gender somewhere along the line.

(Of course, Romana might not have changed bodies after all - she simply have been sampling from a body catalogue, similar to the one the Time Lords used in The War Games when the second Doctor was given the choice of the one he was to be exiled on Earth in).

How would the kids react to this? Imagine coming home one evening and finding that your parents have changed gender on you. Apart from the obvious rejoinder that there's no reason to assume that our developmental psychology and gender roles would apply to Time Lords, I would imagine that this is taken into account in Gallifrey's educational system. Perhaps the administration source for regeneration synchronises them so the parents don't end up with the same gender? Perhaps regeneration is delayed until Time Lord children reach maturity. But is this true of all Time Lords, or just the ones with children or guardianship responsibilities? Again, though, nothing in this potential objection disqualifies the possibility of regeneration into the other gender.

In my first attempt at handling this topic, the question of Leela and Andred from The Invasion of Time was brought up. Leela is not a Time Lord and cannot regenerate. I would strongly suspect that Andred is going to outlive her, unless she can acquire the characteristics of regeneration. Is that possible, given that she doesn't have Time Lord physiology? The Invasion of Time established the existence of a planetary defence force screen above Gallifrey, which would probably make mixed marriages rare. Sciences such as inter-species reproductive technology and bestowing of regeneration on other species would not be priorities for Gallifrey in this case. There is slender evidence from Spearhead from Space that Time Lord cellular structure differs considerably from ours. Much the same argument could be made for David Campbell and Susan. In any case this would make it even simpler for same-gender maintained regeneration to continue throughout the relatively short life span of the non-Time lord partner. There would be no children from these relationships.

Therefore there is no reason that I can think of why the next Doctor could not be a woman. Nothing in the continuity of the series suggests otherwise. Is it not the Doctor's value and commitment to fighting injustice and oppression that is the paramount characteristic? A woman could embody these characteristics as well as a man. Isn't it about time, no, isn't it long overdue, that the programme's hierarchy realised woman can do anything, including saving the universe?

This item appeared in TSV 14 (July 1989).

Reprinted in: The Best of TSV 1-20, TSV: The Best of Issues 1-20